Getting along: a survival strategy

Well here’s something interesting, and in Newsweek, no less. Getting along, social bonding and using their wits are what helped our ancient ancestors to survive:

The realization that early humans were the hunted and not hunters has upended traditional ideas about what it takes for a species to thrive. For decades the reigning view had been that hunting prowess and the ability to vanquish competitors was the key to our ancestors’ evolutionary success (an idea fostered, critics now say, by the male domination of anthropology during most of the 20th century). But prey species do not owe their survival to anything of the sort, argues Sussman. Instead, they rely on their wits and, especially, social skills to survive. Being hunted brought evolutionary pressure on our ancestors to cooperate and live in cohesive groups. That, more than aggression and warfare, is our evolutionary legacy.

Both genetics and paleoneurology back that up. A hormone called oxytocin, best-known for inducing labor and lactation in women, also operates in the brain (of both sexes). There, it promotes trust during interactions with other people, and thus the cooperative behavior that lets groups of people live together for the common good.

So it was not big sticks, aggression or killing large prey that created the evolutionary success of our ancestors (in fact, there is a lot of evidence, according to the article, that our ancestors were prey, not predators), but trusting people and working together for the “common good.” Well, how about that?

This quote comes from the current cover story of Newsweek, “The Evolution Revolution.” It’s actually a good read and worth a look — lots of interesting tidbits about our deepening understanding of human evolution — we’ve got lots of extinct cousins, folks. But remember, it’s still Newsweek: the article has an almost apologetic use of God and Bible references — as if we can’t talk about evolution without refering to religion. It’s annoying.